If you tend to celebrate Christmas but you're away from home, perhaps you're curious about what others do during the holidays! Several Women on the Road (and one man!) have sent in their own Christmas traditions to share with you. Is this how YOU would spend Christmas?
Most Christmas traditions include family visits and Midnight Mass, so we'll focus on the more personal or unusual ones.
While Christmas is established as a Christian tradition, the visible aspects of the holiday are everywhere, whatever your faith. I've celebrated Christmas in countries from Thailand to Algeria, and while beliefs may differ, the spirit of peace and brotherhood (and, unfortunately, shopping) stay the same.
Women on the Road NEWS: Contents for Issue #47
- Christmas on the road: our readers share their own traditions
- Connecting with Women on the Road
- A few great book gifts for Christmas
- My free travel writing course extended one more month
- Travel News from Across the Web
- Cause of the Month: Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan
Katja Iversen - Denmark
In the afternoon of the 24th some people go to church (often it's the only time they'll go that year). Then they stuff themselves on pork and/or poultry. It is traditional for people to dance around the Christmas tree, while singing Christmas carols before opening the gifts. On 25 and 26 December there are elaborate Christmas lunches with the extended family. This includes 10-15 fish and pork courses and lots of aquavit to wash them all down (or to let the herring swim, as my granddad said). Travelers might want to try a typical Danish Christmas Lunch (served throughout December) and the warm spiced Christmas wine, Gloeeg. In Copenhagen, don't miss the Christmas displays at Tivoli!
Mariëlle van Kampen - Holland
We put up our tree after Sinterklaas (December 5) and gather presents under it. We open our presents on 24 December, and on Christmas Day we usually visit with all the family and celebrate a second Christmas on December 26, when we do something nice like visit some place we don't usually go. On both Christmas days my mother and I cook a special dinner (I still live with my parents) with special Christmas chocolates and little baskets with green foliage and decorations we make ourselves. I don't know exactly how to explain it, because there's no translation, so have a look here for a few photos.
Nora - Germany
There's a tradition of Christmas markets in larger towns during Advent and where you can warm up with a cup of delicious mulled wine, eat traditional sweets, or admire the handiwork of artisans. In addition to the Christmas tree most German households also have five very beautiful traditional decorations: a Nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus (in Christmas markets some are even live, with pantomimes); the 'Schwibbogen' (light arch), a wood candleholder typically showing two miners, a wood carver, a bobbin lace maker, a Christmas Tree, two miner's hammers, two crossed swords and an angel; a Christmas pyramid or multi-storey carousel with carved figures that turn as the candle heat rises; a "Räuchermännchen" (incense burner) for the living room during Advent - an incence cone is placed in a hollow wooden figurine, usually of a craftsman, and burns slowly, making the figurine seem like it's smoking; and finally the Advent wreath, with four candles of which one is lit every Sunday in December. Yes, Germans really love decorating for Christmas!
Tuty Ponce Del Vecchio - Guatemala
One tradition is El Nacimiento (the birth), a Catholic family activity when relatives meet to "recreate" the birth of Jesus Christ with his entourage. The Jesus figure is covered in a blanket until 24 December. Another is Las Posadas: two weeks before Christmas people build an altar with Mary and Joseph and carry it from one house to another, where it stays overnight. The next evening it begins its journey again and is received with welcoming chants and traditional dishes. Finally we have convivios (or Christmas parties), one with every single group we belong to... for example: one Christmas party with cousins, another with workmates, another with close friends, and so on... so ALL of our December weekends are usually taken.
Alice Moukori - Cameroon
In my family, like a lot of Christian families in Cameroon, we follow similar traditions to the French. 1) We celebrate Christmas as Reveillon, like the French, so the main meal is on the 24th in the evening, with the whole family. We tend to have Ngondo at Christmas, a bean cake made from black-eyed peas; you then add either fish or meat to it and spices and cook it steamed, very very good! Otherwise we are traditionally fishermen so we have a big braised (bbq) fish called Capitaine with veg and plantain. 2) Going to church was a big deal for my family so we would go to midnight mass, also on the 24th, after one meal and then come back home, after mass, for another meal. We would then stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning on the 25th. 3) On Christmas Day, presents are opened at lunch, which is another big meal that lasts pretty much all day because people are always dropping in to wish you a Merry Christmas...
Manuel da Quinta - Portugal
Making a creche - a scene depicting the birth of Christ in a manger - is a major tradition in Portugal. The creche can portray the three main characters (Jesus, Mary, Joseph) or other characters like the Three Wise Men, shepherds, sheep, angels and beautiful landscapes with replicas of hills and rivers. On Christmas Eve, known as "Consoada de Natal", there is a special tradition of keeping a log of oak known as "Cepo de Natal" (Christmas log) burning in each fireplace all night to ask for peace for the birthday of Jesus. Normally in the North the tradition is to eat boiled codfish and vegetables, followed by Christmas Mass or "Missa do Galo". After Mass people leave one shoe near the fireplace for St. Claus to deposit the gifts. During the night people go from house to house singing carols and knocking at doors asking for cookies and sweets. On Christmas Day an elaborate lunch is served with traditional dishes and stuffed turkey and traditional desserts (Rabanadas, aletria, tapioca, fritas and Bolo Rei) and Porto wine.
Georgiana Braga - Brazil
In Brazil we never plan anything so we're still shopping on 24 December until staff shoos you out. Then you go home to an overly decorated house, like everywhere else. It is just that snow, elves and reindeers do not match the Brazilian heat. (We once had a palm tree decorated as a Christmas tree and dishes with pineapple for supper, but that was not very popular with the children in the family). We have supper at midnight which includes turkey, roasted pork, 'farofa', rice with nuts and lots and lots of desserts. We then open the gifts and - in my family at least - we have the traditional family bingo. We then go visit other family members (yes at 2-3am) and eventually go to bed and thank God there is still some time before New Year's celebrations start.
Hannah Wayte - Malta
I live in Dublin now but spent 16 years in Malta so I thought I could mention a few Maltese Christmas traditions! One tradition is the 'Presepju' (Christmas crib) display, very elaborate since Malta is still quite a Catholic country. Some people will spend an entire year tirelessly making a large, detailed Christmas crib (rolling hills, running water, intricately designed starry skies - you name it - and the nativity scene). Usually these are kept in the person's garage, the doors of which are opened to the public throughout December to visit the crib and leave a donation. Christmas dinner - food plays a huge role in Maltese society - is always a busy, loud affair with immediate and extended family members gathering together under one roof. Meal preparatinos can start the night before, with the host up and cooking early in the morning. We Maltese certainly love our food (and we do it well!). I'd say this is my favourite part of Christmas :)
Beachcombers - New Zealand
Christmas in New Zealand is fairly low key. It is the middle of summer and whilst many European immigrants try and keep the old traditions going, like roast turkey when its 34 degrees (Centigrade - that's more than 90 Farenheit) outside. Kiwis tend to have a BBQ as the Xmas meal, with seafood featuring prominently.
Lila Bear - Australia
Here in Australia it is also the middle of summer. Most people have a family lunch which will either be the traditional roast of some description, or a seafood and cold meats meal (with things like salad to accompany). Most people will also set up a Christmas tree and some common family activities are going swimming or playing some backyard cricket, unless they are hiding out inside in the air conditioning! It is a common tradition in the week before Christmas for families and friends to do tours of their cities to look at the Christmas light displays.
Carol - USA (as an Italian-American)
Since the US is such a melting pot of different cultures, everyone here pretty much has their own tradition. My family celebrates with some Italian/Catholic traditions such as
Midnight Mass on Christmas eve and eating lasagna or linguini with clam sauce for dinner. The cooking itself is our tradition and takes all day.
I would say some "American" traditions are... A secret Santa gift exchange in which you secretly draw someone's name who will get a present from you at Christmas; kissing beneath the mistletoe; and making a gingerbread house and other Christmas cookies.
More American traditions from "Rhythm-Blues" - USA
In addition to church and family visits, there's often a big Christmas dinner. In our house, it was usually ham, although some people choose roast chicken or goose. My father-in-law started a funny tradition. Since all of us are too old to believe in Santa, gifts carry a name that hints at the contents, rather than 'from Santa'. So, for instance, a gift of a cashmere scarf might be from Frosty the Snowman since you would wear it when it's frosty outside.
Leila Hamdan - Lebanon
Christmas traditions in my country are the same as in the US or Europe. It is all about gifts and presents and has become a commercial occasion, except of course for the extended family gathering on Christmas Eve before attending the mass, which I hope will remain so and holds families together. Christmas street and mall decoration is also splendid.
And my own contribution - Spain!
Christmas - as in opening presents - was actually celebrated on 6 January, the day of the Magi. I lived in envy of my American and English friends who actually got to open their presents nearly two weeks earlier. We shared a large Pastel de los Reyes, a brioche-like cake, in which a stone was hidden and whomever found (more like broke a tooth on) the stone was king or queen for a day, a mixture of Spanish and French traditions (my mother was French). We did celebrate 24 December but with a huge dinner... still two weeks to go before presents got opened!
Please do - we'd love to meet you!
- Join the growing Facebook community at facebook.com/womenontheroad and post on our wall about solo travel and your travels
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Any advice for solo travel in Romania?
Buying a car as a tourist in the USA
How can a 16-year-old travel?
How can I find a US sponsor for my trip?
What do you mean, a health insurance card?
How young is too young to travel?
And to Mary (who didn't provide her email address and wants to climb Kili) - I don't recommend any specific companies but check out my friend Birgit's site, Mount Kilimanjaro Guide - she's definitely an expert on the climb!
- Link to my website from your own blog or site.
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Best in Travel 2012 - Lonely Planet
Are you preparing for a trip but lacking inspiration? You know you're going - but don't know where? Lonely Planet is becoming a true master at putting out these 'overview' books as I call them, which look at the world as a whole, or broadly at a region. This latest little book (it's the size of a paperback) is as much fun as it is useful - if you like lists (I do). So if you want to know what's up and coming, you'll browse its Top 10 Countries (what's in, out, hot topic, life-changing experiences), Top 10 Regions (most bizarre sight, why go at all, regional flavors) or Top 10 Cities (recent fad, hot topic of the day). Some are predictable, but you'll find a few revelations too. How about top spots to glamp, or slurping soup around the world?
If you're getting ready to travel solo for the first time but don't quite know how to go about it, this feisty, congenial and smart e-book that will tell you everything you need to know to get out the door and on the road. Find out how to save for your trip, break the news to your loved ones, take care of those last-minute jitters, and even how to deal with coming home. It's short, light and to the point - no padding like so many other e-books.Video 101: Tips and Tricks for Awesome Visual Storytelling
If you love moving pictures and want to make travel videos you can be proud of, maybe you need some advice from THE expert: that would be my friend Lisa Lubin, a television journalist and producer who has won THREE Emmy Awards for her broadcast work. Her book is incredibly straightforward - no fluff at all, just the facts: figure out your story, make it human, plan your video ahead of time, use interviews, write for pictures and edit it all together... it's all in the book. So are some priceless checklists to make sure you don't forget a thing. Best of all Lisa traveled around the world on her own for several years and she knows what it's like to share brilliant videos with friends and family back home.
If you're like thousands of others who would love to see their names in print and if you love to travel, have you ever thought of writing to pay for your travels?
It paid for my own travel across several continents so I know a bit about the writer's life and what editors like. I've put a lot of that knowledge together for you in a free online course called the The Travel Writing Magician, available exclusively to readers of Women on the Road.
Just sign up and get it in your mailbox in seven easy daily installments. Work the self-help assignments on your own and see how your writing improves after just one week. You'll never know if there's a travel writer lurking inside you until you try!
Available for free until the end of the year only! After that it becomes a Kindle and you'll have to pay a modest sum for it...
For food lovers...
La Dolce Vita... In Switzerland
Filipino Street Food Adventure
What to Eat in Spain
Bangladeshi Food: An Overview
Lima, Peru Voted Top Food and Drink Destination by Frommers
Japan: Culinary Capital of the World
The Hello Kitty Restaurant in Taipei
...and lovers of other arts
Oh Calcutta! March to the Beat of a Cultural Capital
The Ruin Bars of Budapest
Offbeat Things to do in Istanbul
Sensory Overload in Marrakesh
Off to the Silk Route - Kazakhstan
It's a Jungle Out There: Wildlife in the Pantanal
Heading for Gabon
Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Lake Balaton: The Strangest Place in Central Europe
If You're Visual
Tajikistan's Wild East
Isola Bella in the Eye of the Beholder
Scenes from the Real Afghanistan
Bolivia's Isla del Sol
The Northern Sweden Gallery
12 Funny 'Lost in Translation' Photos
Mongol Rally Moments
Bride Kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan
It's hard to believe but if you're a woman in this Central Asian country, you might be kidnapped in full daylight, carried off by a man you don't know, forced to marry him - with your family standing by unwilling to intervene.
Bride kidnapping is an old nomadic custom in Kyrgyzstan and is more common in poor families where girls may have little recourse or protection. The situation can also lead to domestic abuse and loss of freedom, since once married the woman has little choice in the matter in this Islamic country. Each year, some 15,000 women are kidnapped for marriage.
Here's how it works: a man decides he wants to 'kidnap' a woman so his friends make it happen. She is often taken to the groom's home where his relatives try to convince her to marry him of her own 'free will'. Having spent the night at the groom's home makes her a 'fallen woman' so there's a better chance she'll accept - she may see herself as 'ruined' and if she doesn't her own family may see her that way.
December 10 is Human Rights Day and a good time to make a commitment to safeguarding human rights, on our doorsteps or around the world. You could join one of the campaigns working to bring an end to kidnapping as a way to force marriage.
To find out more about how to end bride kidnapping and other human rights issues:
The world's top festivals and why you should try to see them at least once in your life!
(c) 2007-2011, Leyla Giray. All rights reserved. Women on the Road News is published monthly. Reproduction of any material from this newsletter without written permission is prohibited.